Blowing Off Steam

Catherynne M. Valente • November 28th, 2007 @ 3:30 pm • Culture, Uncategorized

There comes a time in the life of every young novelist when she starts to think zeppelins are really cool, and corsets and goggles and vague gear-based science seem to lurk around every corner, opening their jackets to her nubile gaze and revealing a lining sewn with all the books she might write involving Victoriana and steam-powered rockets.

Parents, talk to your children about steampunk.

It’s everywhere these days, isn’t it? Anime, Doctor Who, novel after novel involving clockwork and airships. Young women going about in bustles, for heaven’s sake! But it’s just as easy for the kids these days to get impure steampunk, cut with lesser punk materials.

Let me say it now and for all time, for the protection of your little ones: you can’t have steampunk without steam.

Most of the product on the street these days would more adequately be termed clockpunk or gearpunk–though the golden age of clocks was about a century too early to bear the ubiquitous Victorian sticker with which we plaster everything from the Enlightenment era to Belle Epoque. If there’s a corset and a repressed manservant, by god, it’s Victorian. Steam power itself seems rather inconvenient, bludgeoned out of the way by corpulent balloons and quasi-Dickensian dialogue.

It is my understanding, poor, un-hip child that I am, that steampunk correlates precisely with cyberpunk, substance of choice of the last generation: literature which addresses and delineates anxiety (hence the punk, also ubiquitous, also nearly meaningless now) concerning new technology, computers in the first case, steam power in the second. Yet in almost everything I’ve ever seen called steampunk (besides the powerfully adequate Steamboy film) that eternal gateway drug, there is no actual steam power to speak of, and precious little anxiety. Because we, in our current, painfully neo-Victorian culture, think all that old-fashioned stuff is so damn cool, well, the actual Victorians must have loved it, too, right?

Dare to tell your wee wastrels that it’s not all quaint manners and cufflinks–steam technology caused horrific scalding and often death, thrilling explosions and the utter terror and unfathomable joy–and which one often depended entirely on whether you owned the factory or worked in it–of a world which was changing so very fast, devouring itself in an attempt to lay just one more mile of railroad track. Again, I return to seriousness as a necessary addition to fantasy: if you want Victoria in your coat pocket, if you want the world that comes with her, all that possibility, all that terrible, arrogant, gorgeous technology, take it all, make it true, be honest and ruthless with it, or you’re just gluing gears to your fingers and running around telling everyone you’re a choo-choo train. Get punk or go home–and think, for just a precious second, about what punk means, the rage and iconoclasm and desperation, the nihilism and unsentimental ecstasy of punk rock. I’ve heard the punk suffix mocked soundly by everyone I know–but we should be so lucky as to live up to it.

If you’re going to go prowling for tophatted villians at night, seek out the pure stuff, the real, filthy, ugly, euphoric sludge at the bottom of a spoon, because that’s the Victorian era, that’s steam power, that’s a world shredding itself to death on the spindle of industry, hoping to wake up to a prince in a hundred years. No one wants to get screwed with a bag full of Drano and flaccid research.

But gears are so pretty. So easy. Why, you hardly need to know any science at all! Just stick a gear on it and it’s golden! Come on, Mom, just one clockwork automaton, please? Don’t be such a hardass.

And you can have them. They can talk like C3PO and everyone can eat gearcakes with brass icing for tea, and it can be a beautiful thing, but you mustn’t call it steampunk.

37 Responses to “Blowing Off Steam”

  1. Jesse says:

    A friend of mine actually queried me regarding steampunk a few weeks ago, and to my chagrin her understanding of it was limited entirely to decidedly non-steam (and debatably non-punk) material objects. Essentially, she had come across an article or website which, while appropriating the steampunk moniker, consisted entirely of people reverse-retrofitting their PC’s, laptops and so forth. Her example of a mahogany-paneled laptop which you booted with a crank sounded aesthetically pleasing to me but I quickly pointed out, as any proper boor must, that the pseudo-artifacts on the website simply weren’t steampunk.

    As you astutely point out there is a severe deficit of hard steampunk fiction (as it were; say we aren’t there already!) and I agree that the primary reason for this must be simple laziness. Considering the glut of soft science fiction compared to its more rigid and rare counterpart this is hardly surprising, but do you suppose part of the problem might be the medium? After all, steampunk does seem more common in comics and other, directly visual mediums, and I am frankly at a loss to think of any fully realized, recently-penned steampunk novels or anthologies. I must confess I have not yet read any of your work, so if this is your forte excuse my ignorance, but can you or anyone else suggest some strong titles? Surely the genre has existed (or subsisted) long enough for there to be some modern crowning jewel? I’m forgetting something, aren’t I?

  2. Marie Brennan says:

    Fabulous. Thanks for the timely post: It has now slotted into place that if the sekrit ingredients in my Elizabethan faerie fantasy are espionage and religion, the mood you’re describing here really really needs to be a sekrit ingredient in its sister novel, which will take place circa 1870.

    I knew it already; I just didn’t know it. Not on the right level of my brain.

    I’m not sure the finished product will merit the name steampunk, but aiming for some of that edginess can only be a good thing. Perhaps I shall print this out and stick it on my monitor while I gear up to write the thing.

  3. Kate says:

    God forbid we don’t label everything down and make sure that it’s accurate – how else can we suck the magic out of creating? Why does everyone have to try to own a genre? Just like the stuff you like, don’t like the stuff you don’t and put the soapbox away until there’s things that really deserve it. GAH.

  4. Paul Riddell says:

    You hit it in one, because the golden rule to adding punk to “steampunk” is the understanding that the world you’re writing about won’t exist in another ten years. True, you wouldn’t have had anything like the Bromley Contingent forming in Whitechapel in the 1890s, but imagine the tenor if you were watching the world tear itself apart for that few more miles of train track or one more orchid greenhouse…and you knew that it was going straight to hell and wouldn’t come back by the time the Empire entered the Great War.

    Here’s an analogy. I’ve been spending the last five years studying carnivorous plants of all sorts, and you can’t look at carnivores without looking at the greenhouse craze of the Victorian Era. Thanks to factories dumping insane amounts of shit into the air, the effects on the people were written off as “the costs of progress,” but the real effect was felt by gardeners. When Dr. Nathaniel Ward developed what was later known as the “Wardian Case” (what we now call “terraria”) for keeping ferns and other plants alive under stressful conditions, England went insane for any bit of greenery. Forests were stripped of ferns so proper English drawing rooms could have at least one fern on display, and anyone who could afford a greenhouse bought as large a one as they could and stocked it with as many exotic plants as they could get. Nepenthes pitcher plants, one of my great loves, were one of the greatest beneficiaries of that explosion, as they were not only impressive but of actual benefit in keeping down pests for other plants. If you have the opportunity to peruse plant catalogs from about 1900, you’ll see a variety and range of new species and new cultivars that stretches the limits of the word “incredible”, and many families became rich by hiring teams to collect orchids, carnivores, bromeliads, and any other strange and wonderful plants from their native lands and bring them back to England. For about twenty years, one of the greatest status symbols in English culture was the wrought-iron greenhouse.

    Well, it all went kablooie thanks to the war, particularly thanks to ever-increasing fuel prices. Many private and public greenhouses couldn’t afford the heating bills in winter or the general maintenance in the summer, and many had no choice but to turn the steam boilers off and let their collections die in the cold. Scores of unique cultivars of pitcher plant became extinct because their owners couldn’t afford to keep them in the lifestyle to which they’d become accustomed, and carnivorous plant horticulture didn’t start to recover until the 1960s. And this is just talking about plants: just think about the other developments, from technology to literature to natural history, cut back due to costs or because the young men who would have kept on the traditions died in the trenches.

    That’s what’s missing from the material you’re understandably criticizing. There’s more to good steampunk than putting top hats and spats on a typical space opera hero. Here, you’re dealing with both the angst of knowing that this world never happened and the angst of knowing that it wouldn’t have lived for long even if it had.

  5. James says:

    You sort of fogged up the main point of your post, methinks. I’m perfectly comfortable identifying a book as steampunk even if its patron saint is Eli Whitney or Count von Zeppelin instead of Robert Fulton. It’s not that so-called steampunk lacks steam, but that it lacks a certain technological anxiety, right?

    I promise not to refer to every book that employs Victoriana as steampunk if you give me a better name to use. Retrofuturist fiction?

  6. Niall says:

    I promise not to refer to every book that employs Victoriana as steampunk if you give me a better name to use.

    ‘Gaslight romance’ covers a lot of it, I feel.

  7. Jess Nevins says:

    I think you’re going to enjoy my article in the steampunk anthology.

    Of course, you said what I said, only a whole lot better.

    (I suggest “steam sf” and “gaslight romance”).

  8. G. D. Falksen says:

    I find your post both very entertaining and very refreshing. In the past year or two “steampunk” seems to have been expanded to include every popular misconception of history from the Renaissance through the Second World War, with the emphasis being placed on rejecting everything related to steam technology and the Victorian era except the pretty clothes. I have difficulty deciding which worries me more: the fact that the historical steam age gave birth to a wide range of bizarre technologies and social tensions that people seem interested in ignoring, or the fact that the pulp adventure imagery of the 1920s and 1930s has somehow been nominated as more representative of steampunk than the steam age. I enjoy zeppelins as much as the next person, but I do find it sad that all the actual historical attempts at making steam-powered airships are just casually tossed away in favor or the gasoline-powered rigid frame variety.

  9. Catherynne M. Valente says:

    James–I think Retrofuturist is right on–it’s honest about the motivations. ;)

    Kate–That’s what the internet is for, of course. I enjoy plenty of things, but I think the fad of steampunk has gotten away from what steampunk was supposed to be, and what I dearly want to see in fiction, but have not. At least writing this got me to think more clearly about the punk part of it–if it gave you no clarity, hey, tomorrow is another blog.

    Jesse–I have not written any steampunk, so no worries there. The novel I’m working on now has elements but is neither set in this world or the Victorian era, but it does have steam and anxiety. I won’t call it steampunk (dreampunk is better) but who knows what anyone else will say?

    Jess–Can’t wait!

  10. Thomas Willeford says:

    I am not a writer. I am a costume maker by trade. With a degree in, of all things Victorian Studies…. amongst other things, and I tend to agree with you. Most people seem to think you can throw some cogs on your old Trad-Goth Pseudo Victorian dress and call it SteamPunk. If you say word one to correct them, they scream with indignation, “Don’t you dare label me!!! Wah! I can be what ever I want!” Doing this whole “there are no constraints” thing is like playing tennis, without a net. I’m sorry folk but words do actually tend to have meanings. You stay too far outside the lines and you no longer fit within that meaning.
    Yes, the Age of Steam technically runs about the late 17th century (Thomas Savery (1650-1715) First recorded Steam engine patent) to the present (over 90% of the world’s Electrical power is generated by Steam Turbines) but, Steam’s greatest impact was arguably felt during the Victorian Era. That would be from 1837 to January of 1901. Plenty of Anarchist, Secret Societies, Big Government and Mega Corporations to go around. Great place To have angsty punk rebellion. I can Imagine a world with a few slight twists.. A picture of Victoria With “God Save the Queen” plastered across in mismatched letters. An old First Anglo-Boer War veteran wearing a sign “Who is this Jesus? WE DIED FOR YOUR SINS!”. But I’m not seeing a lot of Punk Through the Steam lately. I of course like the idea of a huge and cumbersome Steam powered arm.. imagining the loss of the real one and then stuck with that clunking monstrosity. The only thing worse then losing something is getting it back damaged. But I’m not such a stickler on the “hard science”….. even if my other degree does happen to be in Physics.

  11. Paul Jessup says:

    You know- you hit the nail right on the head. I hate the term steampunk, always have. I remember arguing with someone at a con (Origins- I think, a gaming con in Ohio- but I digress) about the word steampunk, and how I thought the word “retrofuturism” was better.

    Although I do love the phrase gaslight romance. I don’t know- the phrase itself grates on my nerves. I hate it when people append punk to the ends of subgenres. Sandelpunk. Steampunk. Monkeypunk. Asspunk. Who cares?

  12. Paul Jessup says:

    …erp

    Stupid sentence structures. When I said “the phrase itself grates on my nerves” I meant Steampunk, not gaslight romance.

  13. Lesley Hall says:

    If there’s a corset and a repressed manservant, by god, it’s Victorian.

    O dear yes. And all the women characters are duchesses or prostitutes/thieves or oppressed (and probably faceless non-speaking) servants. Never (in my experience) are the women characters anything like such Victorian women as the sisters Bronte, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Elizabeth Gaskell, Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Sophia Jex-Blake, Angela Burdett-Coutts, Barbara Bodichon, Lady Butler, Josephine Butler, Mary Kingsley, Millicent Fawcett, Frances Power Cobbe, Annie Besant: i.e. (largely) middle class women who were writers, artists, philanthropists, social reformers, pioneers for women in the professions.

  14. Catherynne M. Valente says:

    Lesley–this is precisely, among other things, what bothers me about Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

    Paul–I like punk…or would, if it meant being actually punk rock. It’s funny how musical terms become universal–my friends all say one thing or another is “metal.” If any of those genres were like the punk I described above, I would happily grant them the term.

  15. Paul Jessup says:

    Oh I love me some punk rock. But usually, when it involves genre terms, punk means anything but. it just means “here is something edgy, you know, like cyberpunk- but with pretty clothes!”

  16. Jen Carlson says:

    I found this helped me when I worked on my nanowrimo for what steampunk could be
    http://www.jaborwhalky.com/Site%2014/The%20Steampunk%20Timeline%20of%20Futures%20Past.html

    But I think my NAMOWRIMO came out like a ‘Gaslight romance’ more then anything hard core or Steampunk.

    I have never felt the word punk in steampunk had anything to do with the 70s punk rock..

  17. Jake von Slatt says:

    Hi, I’m one of the commenter decried “modders” and I wholeheartedly agree with Catherynne concerning the lack of punk in Steampunk of all flavors. I don’t agree with many of the commenter on what Steampunk “should” be.

    Now, I’m a craftsman not a writer, so my means of expression will always involve putting torch to metal rather then pen to paper. For me the punk in my Steampunk relates most closely to the DIY ethic of the Punk movement. That’s why my projects always debut with detailed photos and descriptions of their construction. It’s my hope to inspire others, particularly amateurs, to take up their tools to make things of there own.

    If those things happen to be a cluster of gears sewn to some Victorian style clothing, I say “bully!” the act of creation should be celebrated, everything else is just personal taste.

  18. Joshua says:

    I feel that Jacquard and Babbage are names that belong in the steampunk list of patron saints (being, after all, the lineage of inspiration that lead to its literary inception), and that the machine-gun and telegraph belong within its arsenal. It is a world poised of discovery, and it knows it is poised on more (though it knows not the kind); and a world that is yet largely unaware (or in a hushed refusal to acknowledge) of the cost of progress.

    Clockwork is a dim but graceful memory of the ruthless speed and efficiency of the first automated factories; I view it as a metaphor, in true Victorian fashion. Because the crushed and mutilated hand of a child — that’s not something one discusses at tea, is it, Ms. V_? But the gears… Well, those are models of elegant precision! Just like a clock’s…

  19. Cory The Raven says:

    If Steampunk is supposed to indeed be a social critique in the vein of Cyberpunk, then to become a lifestyle is must necessarily be diluted into little more than an aesthetic, as has Cyberpunk.

    No one in their right mind should want to devote themselves to living out a modern fantasy version of the deplorable lives in a cautionary tale. If the real Steampunk literature – the Sterlings and Gibsons, Jeters and Powers – was really impressing their messages upon us, then we should want to go running in abject terror from the Victorian era into the welcoming arms of equal rights and indoor toilets. Likewise if we took seriously those same authors’ Cyberpunk stories: we should also want to recoil in horror from the bleak future that they present, rather than fetishize it with PVC, goggles and stompy boots.

    Steampunk isn’t a lovable genre… Based on its purposes, you can’t really like it in the sense of wanting to pattern your life after it. Really appreciating Steampunk means getting on your knees and praising God that we don’t live in the Victorian era anymore, and doing your damn’dest to excise lingering Victorianisms in our own era.

    Steampunk as a lifestyle is necessarily an aesthetic… A psuedo-revolutionary fetishizing of the Victorian era, and more particularly, the Victorian working classes. But in that sense, Steampunk is highly Punk, since Punk is nothing more than an aesthetic in which the enfranchised classes of today fetishize poverty. Punk isn’t disgruntled with authority: it’s all white people! It’s the rage of the enfranchised with how boring it is to be enfranchised. Real socially progressive movements have been about enfranchising the real disenfranchised: giving voices, votes, equality and opportunity to women, workers, African Americans, homosexuals, the Third World…

    Which then raises the question of how it isn’t Punk to glue gears on a laptop but it is Punk to poke studs in a leather jacket. No really, what is the difference?

    This is why, I suspect, for most of its history, “Steampunk” was just a convient label – winged on a joke – while most people were affectionate towards the far more lovable Scientific Romantic, “gaslamp fantasy” side of things. Those actually have likable traits that one could conceivably want to incorporate into their lives, both aesthetic and philosophical. It wasn’t until some people came along and decided that Steampunk should even be Punk that this thread of criticism could come in. I admittedly enjoy the critique though… The people who thought that Steampunk wasn’t Punk enough because it wasn’t DIY are now being told their DIY projects aren’t Punk enough.

    Nevertheless, that transition is why I got out of the Steampunk business. I’m totally content to be labelled a Scientific Romantic and enjoy the fruits of that buffet.

  20. dixie hayduke says:

    I have been greatly enjoying this discussion on “steampunk” “gaslight” “punk” etc. and agree with the author. It is too bad that people want to go the easy route and just take a snippet of a genre – the easy way – and just turn it into an aesthetic.

    I take umbrage with Cory the Raven’s post:

    “since Punk is nothing more than an aesthetic in which the enfranchised classes of today fetishize poverty. Punk isn’t disgruntled with authority: it’s all white people! It’s the rage of the enfranchised with how boring it is to be enfranchised. Real socially progressive movements have been about enfranchising the real disenfranchised: giving voices, votes, equality and opportunity to women, workers, African Americans, homosexuals, the Third World…”

    Were you ever punk or did you participate in punk in the 70′s and 80′s? Not the Sex Pistols/Malcolm MacLaren version, but the real punks? The angry, disaffected youths of, at the time, London? No work, no hope, no future. Punk was political. 80′s punks were heavily into anti-war, nuclear disarmament, etc. And guess what? There were women, worker, african american, and gay punks.
    Who knew? (note the dripping sarcasm there)

    I’d agree that /today’s/ punks are mostly art school kids trying on the clothes.
    But please don’t challenge what punk was, what it started out as being; angry with good reason, and fighting.

    In that, and to bring it around to the discussion at hand. I’d more compare the current “steampunk” fashion trend with “Mods” (as in “Mods vs Rockers,” Quadrophenia, The Who etc) or even the Teddy Boys of the ’60s. These both were concerned with fashion, not politics. Middle class kids trying to have a new ‘look.’

  21. Cory The Raven says:

    Sorry… I just look at the historical record of progressive social movements and… well… don’t see Punk there. It’s a musical footnote, and Punks weren’t the only people in anti-war, anti-establishment movements, nor did they originate with Punks. It was bohemian, but that doesn’t make it revolutionary.

    That to me just makes the crowing about Punkifying Steampunk kind of amusing, above and beyond the fact that Steampunk was never really a Punk-type movement to begin with. What you call the “easy way” was all it was… The self-styled Punks like the author of the piece have been piling rules on top of it ever since they discovered it a year or two ago. Who knew?

  22. Thomas Willeford says:

    This genre will be defined by those who wish to participate in it… most of you sound like a bunch of old farts saying, “them kids these day with their new fangled ideas and words!!! I got into it in the late 80′s when it seems nobody said the word. You can decide you don’t like it all you want or try and call it something else, to make yourselves feel smarter or some such but, very few descriptives are going to have the mouth appeal of Steampunk. I’m going to continue to make my Brass Goggles (by the way, I sell them for about $125 a pair if you are interested ), clockwork firearms, and various other pieces of Mechanical Wonderment for as long as people keep paying me the large sums they do.

  23. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    There’s a difference between an academic’s or writer’s perception of what “steampunk” is, and a reader’s. For this reason, we have Jess Nevins’ introductory essay in our Steampunk antho, which deals with the taxonomy and origins and “purity” of the term (Jess might have a better way of saying this), and then fiction that reflects a wide variety of what *readers* have come to think of as steampunk. I agree it has mutated somewhat, but I never thought of it as a particularly coherent “movement” so really don’t think it matters that much. Now, New Weird–that’s a different story… ;)

    Jeff

  24. Molly Friedrich says:

    Yes, words mean things, but the whole appeal of this kind of genre is that it’s a wide open playground. I see no harm in that, since its getting at least some people interested in pursuing a more deeper style of steampunk than we would otherwise have. Culture is very fluid and resists fast labels. Perhaps you might adjust to the idea that concepts change over time and you currently are working on an outdated definition even if its more technically ‘correct’.

    To you, it means this; to them it means that… and that’s about the long and short of it. I actually agree with a lot of what you’re saying here (I personally think there are too many victoriana fans going around with decorative gears and no ‘punk’ in their ‘steam’), I just don’t see a point in trying to get people to re-label something this late in the game. I think the stuff that is called steampunk by most people is actually more like retrofuture or pulp, and even though that is the stuff I am more drawn to… my life is probably more suitable to the victorian era than most people’s. I have no car, I have no cellphone, I own a sizable collection of vinyl music, I always try to observe good manners.

    Besides, I see the ‘steam’ as referring to the whole era; its culture, its architecture, its dreams, and struggles… not literally just one basic facet of the era’s technology. What is the benefit of limiting things so much? So you can be a ‘purist’ and feel better about yourself than all those ‘fakers’ just having a good time?

    In my own estimation, the last 100 years have been a diversion into lowest common denominator fashion via cheap labor and computer automation, and people are starting to react to it. They are looking to the past splendor because the modern clothes are bland and characterless comparatively. It doesn’t bother me in the least whatever someone wants to call it, I think its great that people are turning to handmade goods and DIY modding. THAT is the punk in steampunk to a lot of people. The political statement is that we are sick of planned obsolescence and we are rejecting disposable everything.

    I believe in fewer walls, more fun. Labels are for catalogs and washing instructions.

    Most of the people getting into this whole realm right now are doing it from an aesthetic direction only, and I think that’s somewhat unfortunate, but I figure that its going to happen if we like it or not. Leave the whining to the goths, and just hope that enough people look deeper into the genre and stick around. The fad idiots will pass, and those of us that stick around will be part of something that matters deeply to us.

    This just seems like an odd thing to let get to you.

    with best regards,
    Molly ‘Porkshanks’

  25. Molly Friedrich says:

    dixie hayduke, the fact that you would claim that Mods have no political stance or basis is indicative of your ignorance of this culture. Fancy that! Its the same exact thing all over again.

  26. fciron says:

    Back when the internet was vestigal and based on a blinking > prompt I remember arguing about whether X was really punk rock.

    I think that the real issue is that the term ‘Steampunk’ has been picked up by the wider culture to describe a whole range of Victoriana and pulp. There is no academy to control the use of language and it is unlikely that anyone in this discussion has the means to stop Time magazine from misusing the names of sub-subcultures.

    I look, I read, I listen, I even build things occasionally. Sometimes I like things because they’re purty, sometimes I like things because they make me think or open my eyes and mind to new ideas. I plan to continue with what I have been doing, just like I did before I thought of it as steampunk. I encourage everyone else to do the same:

    The best you can with what you’ve got.

  27. Nishan Stepak says:

    I always thought of steam punk as more of a kind of clockwork world where everything is wound up and then let go kind of like those little godzilla toys you bought as a kid. Most of the time, the only thing I see powering steampunk is coal. It is a rather gritty victorian realm.

    Alan Moore does a really good version of steampunk in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the comic book, not the atrocious movie.

    I am rather amazed that it is showing up in Anime. I watch anime sometimes. The only thing which I really picked up along those lines is Howl’s Moving Castle. It seemed to be set in a kind of Victorian steampunk era. You could see steam cars rolling around on the streets as a kind of background image.

    Of course if you were truly thinking of Victorian magic, everything would be powered by phlogiston or the ether between the voids.

  28. Allen Hunter says:

    I like the term retro-futurism, because that is very descriptive of the majority of the “steampunk”aesthetic you see around. Punk is dystopic, Futurism is Utopic. I think a lot of the appeal of steampunk is that it recalls a time when it was possible to be a lot more optimistic about the promise of the industrial revolution.

    Before you get too mad at old geezers bitching about the term punk being used to describe anything, you should at least understand that the term punk now describes something anathema to what it described in the 70s and 80s. Punk isn’t just dead, it has been forgotten and replaced by a repugnant corporate doppleganger. It’s gone from sub-culture to vapid fashion. It still is one of the saddest things in the world for me to see kids spending hundreds of dollars in a hot topic in the mall to look punk- presumably because they figure it will be easier for them to get laid.

    It won’t be long before the malls carry brass goggles either.

    “The new groups are not concerned
    With what there is to be learned
    They got Burton suits,
    Ha! you think it’s funny,
    Turning rebellion into money!”
    -The Clash
    White man in Hammersmith Palais

  29. Robert From ABney Park says:

    An artistic movement is just that: movement. Let it flow, and evolve. If it strays from its roots, so be it. Who are we to try to control a subculture just so that it fits with how we originally envisioned it?

  30. Josh Jasper says:

    It still is one of the saddest things in the world for me to see kids spending hundreds of dollars in a hot topic in the mall to look punk- presumably because they figure it will be easier for them to get laid.

    Personally, I find few things more humorous than an artistic movement that takes it’s self seriously getting co-opted by the forces it revolted against.

  31. Dixie says:

    “dixie hayduke, the fact that you would claim that Mods have no political stance or basis is indicative of your ignorance of this culture. Fancy that! Its the same exact thing all over again.”

    Mod was always about fashion. Especially U.S. Mod culture.
    I’m not saying that punk wasn’t as well (often only about fashion), but at least it had a serious political and philosophical edge to it in a way that Mod did not. (think Dead Kennedys, The Clash, Patti Smith, Bad Religion, etc)
    Punk was a cultural revolt, a reaction and rebellion.

    I’m not sure how my saying that Mods didn’t have a political stance is indicative of my thinks on steampunk.

    I love the aesthetic of steampunk, or retrofuture or pulp (whatever folks wanna call it).
    Perhaps there are sub-genres to this overarching subject. and that’s fine. The more non-status quo the better.
    (altho paradoxically, the more the better perhaps then becomes status quo and we start all over again.
    but i’s 0530 and I woke up at 0300 so sleepless rambling is on)
    Anyone remember when there was no “goth” only a more depressed and slower music kind of punk?

    I appreciate the more philosophical aspect of it – the reaction to this “lowest common denominator”
    as Molly put it, way of living. I think she is right on the mark with that assessment.

  32. Chaos says:

    Dixie: It turns out I can dredge up that memory, along with one of my punk rock role models extolling the virtues of “death-rock chicks”.

  33. Joseph Francis says:

    I don’t really think ‘Clockpunk’ is an adequate term for this stuff either

    http://www.digitalartform.com/archives/2009/07/fury_of_the_ill.html

    since clocks were still fairly primitive in da Vinci’s day.

  34. Jack McNamee says:

    Oh good lord this is a brilliant article. Such WORDS, woman! “Parents, talk to your children about steampunk.” is simply gorgeous.

    …I must remember that this is the internet. Praise means nothing. Ahem.

    As a young aspiring novelist, I have an idea for a book about fantasy creatures living secret lives in intustrial london. The paradigm shift of the industrial era has been warping their bodies from organic into strange mechanical things- their claws to razorblades, wings to clockwork, so-on- and they find themselves slowly dying.

    (This is going by Terry Pratchett rules: belief changes fantasy creatures etc etc.)

    SO OK: If it features mechanical things in this way, and assuming it is ALL ABOUT the Punk, is it Steampunk? Where’s the line? What happens if I put the fantasy creatures in modern-day london? What happens if I put them in Victorian london, but don’t make them mechanical? Fantasy-Punk? This isn’t a hypothetical question.

    As someone who’s had little more than the odd passing fling with steampunk, all this buisness about re-defining the boundaries of an already rather cramped sub-genre seems a little pedantic. Can we not simply call it something like “Retroism”?

    Oh, hold on. Just read an earlier comment. “Retro-Futurism”. Now that sounds about right.

  35. The “Scope Creep” of Steampunk | The Satellite Show says:

    [...] 20 years later people are wondering if the term Steampunk still has any real meaning (such as in this blog where “retrofuturist” and other such terms are proposed as a more honest [...]

  36. dpanjaan says:

    I have written very inresting sex stories in Hindi language and in Hindi font.The theme, plot and charactors of my stories are seem real and natural.

  37. Staff Picks, Part II | Lydia Moëd says:

    […] beautiful, moving, exciting and incredibly inventive stories, steampunky in the ruthless, brutal, ‘world shredding itself to death on the spindle of industry’ way that steampunk should be (in my opinion), and feature one of my favourite female characters […]

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